A few years back I worked for a time in a fabric showroom. It was an old Italian firm that had been around for most of the 20th century and dealt in very high-end silks, damasks, and wallpaper. This place sold only to the trade, and my job was to fetch samples of fabric for the decorators to show their clients. I spent almost all my time in a back room area where the hundreds of samples were stored.
My immediate superior was a middle-aged lady named Ellen who had a humpback and was recovering from a bad case of shingles. In fact, the health insurance that came with the job was the main reason she'd carried on working there for nineteen mind-numbing years. As a result, she'd become a bitter, disappointed, almost unhinged person. She was always popping into the back room, interrupting whatever I was doing, chatting me up about incredibly banal things I had absolutely no interest in whatsoever, such as the social life and personality quirks of her pit bull, Roscoe. She would pontificate at length on such diverse topics as the evils of the Halliburton Corporation, Texas Longhorn football, the Byzantine ins and outs of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case (turns out the brother did it), and her utter contempt for the interior designers who were our customers.
Blood Sweat and Tears were always the poor man's Chicago, but to say their body of work has not aged well is putting it mildly. I tried my best to feign interest in her pointless ramblings, just to humor her and be an amicable co-worker, but it was hard not to notice she was half-crazy. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, she'd burst out with a demented, cackling laugh that never failed to give me electric goosebumps. Her idea of a good time was to take a chartered bus on weekend day-trips to the Indian Casinos along the Oklahoma/Texas border, where she would spend hours pouring frozen margaritas down her gullet and playing the nickel slots until it was time to pile back onto the bus and drag her busted hump back to Dallas. Naturally, she felt the need to tell me all about her okie-gaming odysseys in excruciating detail.
This essay is not about Ellen, per se. It's about something else in the back room that, in time, really began to get under my skin. The source of the irritation was a radio. It was Ellen's radio, and from my first day, it was turned-on and tuned-in to a local station specializing in golden oldies, soft rock, and soul hits of the 1960's and 70's. The same middle of the road fodder I'd been forced to listen to ad-nauseum while growing up, was back to annoy me further.
I didn't feel it was my place, being a new worker and all, to change the channel or turn the damned thing off and risk ruffling Ellen's delicate feathers, so for weeks on end I endured this station's narrow-minded playlist, which recycled the same fifty or so "super gold hits" endlessly. After a while, when it seemed my mind would turn to permanent mush as a result of those stupid songs on repeat, I finally snapped and wrote the following ranting manifesto in the form of an open letter to the powers that be at the oldies station. I never intended to mail the thing, it was just a way for me to vent and stave-off the interminable boredom of that hellish back-room.
So, with just a bit more ado, here's an informal list of a few of the super-annoying tunes that drove me up the wall and back down again. I'm sure some of them are your favorite songs, but try listening to them three times a day for six months and then talk to me. You will notice that the word "suck" gets thrown around quite a lot. So I apologize in advance for the plethora of "sucks" and also for the many F- and S-bombs (incoming!), but they were the only words which really captured exactly how I was feeling at the time.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Hell's Playlist. Enjoy.
1. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin
Again? Are you kidding me? You're trotting out this old war-horse….again?! I'll give this song the respect it deserves, which is precisely none. A chick-empowerment anthem so overplayed, so moth-eaten, so battle-scarred it has harpoons and pieces of ship's tackle sticking out of it like Moby Dick, and blows harder than the hole on the top of that waterlogged literary leviathan's massive noggin ever did. If you pinheads "sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me" one more time, I'll track you down, ring your doorbell, and run away. Be warned, my wrath will be merciless. I'll go all "Sling Blade" on your ass. And Aretha, if you're listening, I hope that when you get to Hell they're playing a version of this song sung by Barney on a continuous loop at ear splitting decibels….. forever!
2. "Sundown" by Gordon Lightfoot
Okay, I admit, I kind of liked this Canuck troubadour's stirring rendition of "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" the first 200 or so times I heard it, but the novelty finally wore off. The rest of the Lightfoot songbook pales in comparison to that epic ten-minute behemoth, and this one is no exception. While pleasant enough, it's instantly disposable and annoys on multiple levels.
Interesting footnote: In 1999, Lightfoot changed his name to Lonnie Wayne Carl and became a hillbilly. He now lives in West Virginia where he operates a still way back up in the holler. When he's not dodging the revenuers and noodling for catfish, he still finds time to write music. He released a new album in 2012 entitled "Squeal Like A Pig," but iTunes refused to carry it because every song was about sodomizing random male canoeists. Critics called it "not so much an album as a cry for help."
3. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles
This holds up better than most, but it's pretty lame to play it to the near exclusion of the rest of the Beatles catalogue. Bottom line: it's a safe, overplayed song by the greatest band of all time, and I put it about 85th on my list of favorite Beatles songs. Recommendation: Lose it! Play "And Your Bird can Sing," instead. Or the hilarious German version, "Come, Gibt Mir Deine Hande." When the Beatles recorded that song in Hamburg in ‘62, they were hanging out on the Reeperbahn with an eclectic group of transsexuals, hookers, and people wearing Lederhosen and whisk-brooms in their hats, for whom the term "Hande" was street slang for a completely different human appendage. Guess which one. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
4. "Spinning Wheel" by Blood Sweat and Tears
This song sucks big time. B S & T were always the poor man's Chicago (more on them later), but to say their body of work has not aged well is putting it mildly. David Clayton Thomas's guttural, wheezing vocals never sounded more grating than they do in this migraine of a song. After a few turns on the spinning wheel, you'll be ready to heave your cotton candy. I know I was.
Interesting footnote: Not many people are aware that in 1982, all the original members of Blood Sweat and Tears were killed in a tragic hayride accident, but were promptly replaced by a Blood Sweat and Tears cover band in time to make their next gig at Knott's Berry Farm the following night. Hardly anyone even noticed the switch, and those who did preferred the cover band! They're touring to this day and no one's the wiser.
5. "Rainy Day Feeling" by The Fortunes
Pure pablum, but I gotta admit, it still sounds pretty good. Best listened to exclusively on rainy days though.
Interesting footnote: Every member of The Fortunes died broke and alone. How's that for cosmic irony? Just goes to show, God does have a sense of humor after all.
6. "Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam
One hit wonder Steam immortalized themselves with this ubiquitous sports stadium sing-along. Everyone on two…"Na Na Na Na , Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey…This Sucks!" Audio flatulence in its ripest form. Hey, I'm just blowing off some steam here…badump! Steam broke up in 1974 after lead vocalist Harry Dangler insisted that the follow-up to Na Na Na Na be a concept album sung entirely in Navajo! It bombed of course, because only Navajos bought it and there were less than a thousand of them left on the planet. The kicker was, none of them owned a phonograph! They used the records as frisbees and dinner plates.
7. "Land of a Thousand Dances" by Wilson Picket
Another song with a lot of Na Na Na's instead of real lyrics. If Steam was flatulence, this list of dances set to music (the Watusi?!) from Mr. Picket, is flatulence squared. Will someone puh-leeze open up a window!
Fun fact: Picket was picked up in 1993 for soliciting an undercover vice cop in the men's room of a truck stop outside Spartanburg, North Carolina. He claimed he'd merely been trying to borrow some toilet paper from the officer, and only had his pants and underwear off because he didn't want them to get soiled while he was, quote, "dropping a deuce." How sticking his turgid putz through the "glory-hole" between the stalls was supposed to help him get the sought after TP, he couldn't explain.
8. "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder
Sounds as good today as it did when it was released. A standard done to perfection by Stevie Wonder at the beginning of his astonishing ascendency. See, I'm not all complaints (only about 99%). I love little Stevie. In fact, I let him pick out my wardrobe. Have you seen the cover of his new album? Neither has he! Rimshot.
9. "Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me Baby" by Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds
Whoever these three clowns were, they have long since been consigned to the dustbin of music history, but this song staggers on like the undead to plague us from beyond their real and metaphorical graves. Suck is really too mild a word for this compost-heap of a song, which asks the musical question, "What about that diamond ring, doesn't that mean love to you?" in a pathetic attempt by the D-bag singer to convince the object of the second part not to, you know, "pull her love out on him, baby." I think the proper response to his query should be, "For the record, no it doesn't, you shallow, materialistic, emotionally-vacant, misogynist pig!" Wherever Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds are today, I can only hope they are suffering as much as I am when forced to listen to this stinker yet again. Lowest rating, never play.
10. "I'm a Believer" by The Monkees
Sure, The Monkees were a made-up band, but surprisingly, they recorded some pretty fair sounding pop tunes in their day. This one still sounds good, if a little green around the gills. I'll give it a thumbs-up since it was written by the great Neil Diamond. You know what they say: the world is divided into those who like Neil Diamond and those who can't stick him at any price. Count me firmly in the camp of the former.
True fact: Jimi Hendrix once opened for The Monkees. That's like Leonardo Da Vinci opening for Thomas Kinkade!
11. "Time Of My Life" by Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes
This song rates high on the trash-classic meter, as does the original movie it came from. Dirty Dancing was (and still is) a huge guilty pleasure and so is this throwaway ditty extolling the unrivaled joys of grinding crotches with the late Patrick Swayze. Nobody puts baby in a corner, and that includes me. I admit, I'm a big fan of Swayze's complete oeuvre. The kind of self-propelled garbage and muscular hogwash he specialized in appeals to me on a simian level. So this song gets a pass, even though it should only be listened to in conjunction with the movie itself so as to have the complete Dirty Dancing experience. In other words, never play it again.
Question: Why wasn't Swayze's transcendent work in the classic flick Road House nominated for an Oscar? Answer: Fickle academy!
12. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John
Long before Sir Elton came out of the closet, I got a pretty good idea where his proclivities lay when I gazed at the picture of him in 10-inch heels and a sparkly, red-sequined disco jacket on the cover of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (of course, he removed all doubt on his next album with the hit song "Don't Let Your Son Go Down On Me"). This tune is not half bad, even if it did contain references to "Horny Back Toads" and such. Much better than that fast train to suck junction "Crocodile Rock ," which gets way too much air-play (frankly, even once is too much). It sucked then and it sucks now. How about playing "Where To Now, St. Peter" just for grins?
Yet another side note: Mr. John is pretty much a nostalgia act these days and prefers to spend most of his time hanging out in a Turkish bath with real Turks (and a few Greeks). Pass me the loofah, boys!